The theophanies in the Bible, where God is represented under a certain form, as in Ezekiel, Isaiah and Kings, do not argue against our view, for there are meant specially created forms for the benefit and honor of the prophet. This is what is meant by the "Glory of the Lord," and "Shekinah." Sometimes it is simply a created light without an individual form. When Moses asked to see God, he meant the created light. God cannot be seen with the eye nor can he be grasped in thought or imagination. Hence Moses could not have meant to see God, but the created light. His face was covered so that he should not be dazzled by the exceeding splendor of the beginning of the light, which is too much for a mortal to endure; but later when the brightest part passed by, the covering was taken off and Moses saw the last part of the light. This is the meaning of the expression in Exodus 33, 23, "And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back: but my face shall not be seen."
Having treated of God as the creator of the world and having learned something about his attributes, we must now proceed to the study of man, or which is the same thing, to an investigation of God's relations to the rational part of his creation in the sublunar world. That man is endowed with a soul cannot be doubted, for the activities of man's soul are directly visible. The problem which is difficult is concerning the nature of the soul. Here opinions differ, and some regard the soul as an accident of the body, some think it is a corporeal substance like air or fire, while others believe there is more than one soul in man. It will be our task to vindicate our own view against these erroneous ideas. The soul is too important in its functions to be an accident. It is neither air nor fire because it has not the properties of these bodies. And if the soul consisted of two or more distinct parts, the perceptions of sense would not reach the reason, and there would be no co-operation between these two powers. The true view is therefore that the soul of man is a substance created by God at the time when the human body is completed. The soul has no eternal existence before the body as Plato thought, for nothing is eternal outside of God, as we saw before. Nor does it enter the soul from the outside, but is created with and in the body. Its substance is as pure as that of the celestial spheres, receiving its light like them, but is much finer than the substance of the spheres, for the latter are not rational, whereas the soul is. The soul is not dependent for its knowledge upon the body, which without the latter has neither life nor knowledge, but it uses the body as an instrument for its functions. When connected with the body the soul has three faculties, reason, spirit and desire. But we must not think with Plato that these powers form so many divisions or parts of the soul, residing in different parts of the body. All the three faculties belong to the one soul whose seat is in the heart; for from the heart issue the arteries, which give the body sense and motion.
The soul was put in the body because from its nature it cannot act by itself; it must have the body as its instrument in order thereby to attain to perfect happiness, for the soul's functions either purify or defile it. When the soul leaves the body she can no longer repent; all this must be done while she is in the body. Being placed in the body is therefore a good for the soul. If she were left alone, there would be no use in her existence or in that of the body, and hence the entire creation would be in vain, which was made for the sake of man. To ask why was not the soul made so as to be independent of the body is foolish and tantamount to saying why was not the soul made something else than soul. The soul is not in any way harmed by being with the body, for the injury of sin is due to her own free will and not to the body. Moreover, the body is not unclean, nor are the fluids of the body unclean while in the body; some of them are declared in the Bible to cause uncleanness when they leave the body, but this is one of those ordinances which, as we shall see later, are not demanded by the reason for their own sake, but are specially commanded for a different purpose. As for the sufferings which the soul undergoes by reason of her connection with the body, some are due to her own negligence, such as cold, heat, and so on, others are inflicted by God for the soul's own good so that she may be later rewarded.
We see here, and we shall learn more definitely later, that Saadia is opposed to the view of the ascetics—a view Neo-Platonic in its origin—that matter and body as such are evil, and that the constant effort of man must be to free the soul from the taint of the body in which it is imprisoned, and by which it is dragged down from its pristine nobility and purity. Saadia's opposition to the belief in the pre-existence of the soul at once does away with the Neo-Platonic view that the soul was placed in the body as a punishment for wrongdoing. The soul was created at the same time with the body, and the two form a natural unit. Hence complete life involves both body and soul.
We have seen that God's creation of the world is due to his goodness. His first act of kindness was that he gave being to the things of the world. He showed himself especially beneficent to man in enabling him to attain perfect happiness by means of the commandments and prohibitions which were imposed upon him. The reward consequent upon obedience was the real purpose of the commandments.
The laws which God gave us through the prophets consist of two groups. The first embraces such acts as our reason recognizes to be right or wrong, good or bad, through a feeling of approval or disapproval which God planted in our minds. Thus reason demands that a benefactor should receive in return for his goodness either a kind reward if he needs it, or thanks if he needs no reward. As this is a general demand of the reason, God could not have neglected it in his own case, and hence the commandments that we should serve him, that we should not offend or revile him and the other laws bearing on the same subject.
It is likewise a demand of the reason that one should prevent the creatures from sinning against one another in any way. Murder is prohibited because it would lead to the destruction of the race and the consequent frustration of God's purpose in creating the world. Promiscuous association of the sexes is prohibited in order that man may be different from the lower animals, and shall know his father and other relatives that he may show them honor and kindness. Universal stealing would lead to indolence, and in the end would destroy itself when there is nothing more to steal. In a similar way we can explain all laws relating to social dealings among mankind.
The second group of laws has reference to acts which are inherently neither right nor wrong, but are made so by the act of God's commandment or prohibition. This class may be called Traditional in contrast to the first, which we shall name Rational.
The traditional laws are imposed upon us primarily so that we may be rewarded for obeying them. At the same time we shall find on careful examination of these laws that they also have a rational signification, and are not purely arbitrary. Thus the purpose of sanctifying certain days of the year, like Sabbaths and holy days, is that by resting from labor we may devote ourselves to prayer, to the acquisition of wisdom, and to converse with our fellows in the interest of religion. Laws of ceremonial purity have for their purpose to teach man humility, and to make prayer and the visitation of holy places more precious in his eyes after having been debarred from his privileges during the period of his uncleanness.
It is clear that we should not know how to perform the traditional commandments without divine revelation since our own reason would not have suggested them. But even in the case of the rational laws the general principles alone are known to us from our own reason but not the details. We know in general that theft, unchastity, and so on, are wrong, but the details of these matters would lead to disagreement among mankind, and hence it was necessary that the rational laws also be directly communicated to us by divine messengers.
The divine messengers are the prophets. They knew that their revelations came from God through a sign which appeared at the beginning of the communication and lasted to the end. The sign was a pillar of cloud or of fire, or an extraordinary bright light, as we learn in the case of Moses.
The genuineness of a prophet's message is tested first of all by the nature of the content, and then by his ability to perform miracles. The Israelites would not have believed Moses, notwithstanding his miracles, if he had commanded them to commit murder or adultery. It is because his teaching was found acceptable to the reason that the miracles accompanying it were regarded as a confirmation of Moses's divine mission.
The Jewish Law contains three elements, all of which are necessary for effective teaching. First, the commandments and prohibitions, or the laws proper; second, the reward and punishment consequent upon obedience and disobedience; and third, examples of historical characters in which the laws and their consequences are illustrated.
But the written law would not accomplish its purpose without belief in tradition. This is fundamental, for without it no individual or society can exist. No one can live by what he perceives with his own senses alone. He must depend upon the information he receives from others. And while this information is liable to error either by reason of the informant being mistaken or his possible purpose to deceive, these two possibilities are eliminated in case the tradition is vouched for not by an individual, but by a whole nation, as in the case of the Jewish revelation.
As Saadia's emphasis on tradition, apart from its intrinsic importance for Judaism, has its additional motive in refuting Karaism, so the following discussion against the possibility of the Law being abrogated is directed no doubt against the claims of the two sister religions, Christianity and Mohammedanism.
Abrogation of the law, Saadia says, is impossible. For in the first place tradition has unanimously held to this view, and in the second place the Law itself assures us of its permanent validity, "Moses commanded us a law, an inheritance for the assembly of Jacob" (Deut. 33, 4). The law constitutes the national existence of our people; hence as we are assured by the Prophets that the Jewish nation is eternal, the Law must be likewise. We must not even accept the evidence of miracles in favor of a new law abrogating the old. For as we saw before, it was not primarily Moses's miracles that served to authenticate his teaching, but the character of the teaching itself. Now that the law of Moses stood the test of internal acceptability and external confirmation by the performance of miracles, its declaration of permanent validity cannot be upset by any new evidence even if it be miraculous.
Man alone of all created things was given commandments and prohibitions, because he is superior to all other creatures by reason of the rational faculty which he possesses, and the world was created for him. Man's body is small, but his mind is great and comprehensive. His life is short, but it was given him to assist him to the eternal life after death. The diseases and other dangers to which he is subject are intended to keep him humble and God-fearing. The appetites and passions have their uses in the maintenance of the individual and the race.
If it is true that God gave man commandments and that he rewards and punishes him according to his conduct, it follows that unless we attribute injustice to God he must have given man the power to do and to refrain in the matters which form the subject of the commandments. This is actually the case and can be proven in many ways. Everyone is conscious of freedom in his actions, and is not aware of any force preventing him in his voluntary acts. The Bible testifies to this when it says (Deut. 30, 19), "I have set before you life and death ... therefore choose thou life," or (Malachi 1, 9), "From your hand has this thing come." Tradition is equally explicit in the statement of the Rabbis (Berakot 33b), "Everything is in the hands of God except the fear of God." To be sure God is omniscient and knows how a given individual will act in a given case, but this does not take away from the freedom of the individual to determine his own conduct. For God's knowledge is not the cause of a man's act, or in general of a thing's being. If that were so, all things would be eternal since God knows all things from eternity. God simply knows that man will choose of his own free will to do certain things. Man as a matter of fact never acts contrary to God's knowledge, but this is not because God's knowledge determines his act, but only because God knows the final outcome of a man's free deliberation.
Since it is now clear from every point of view that God does not interfere with a man's freedom of action, any passages in the Bible which seem to indicate the contrary are not properly understood, and must needs be interpreted in accordance with the evidence we have adduced from various sources including the Bible itself. Thus when God says (Exod. 7, 3) "I will harden the heart of Pharaoh," it does not mean, as many think, that God forced Pharaoh to refuse to let Israel go. The meaning rather is that he gave Pharaoh strength to withstand the plagues without succumbing to them, as many of the Egyptians did. The same method should be followed with all the other expressions in the Bible which appear to teach determinism.
A man's conduct has an influence upon the soul, making it pure or impure as the case may be. Though man cannot see this effect, since the soul is an intellectual substance, God knows it. He also keeps a record of our deeds, and deals out reward and punishment in the world to come. This time will not come until he has created the number of souls which his wisdom dictates. At the same time there are also rewards and punishments in this world as an earnest of what is to come in the hereafter.
A man is called righteous or wicked according as his good or bad deeds predominate. And the recompense in the next world is given for this predominating element in his character. A righteous man is punished for his few bad deeds in this world, and rewarded for his many good deeds in the world to come. Similarly the wicked man is paid for his good deeds in this world, while the punishment for his wickedness is reserved. This answers the old problem of the prosperity of the wicked and the misery of the righteous in this world.
There are also sufferings of the righteous which are not in the nature of punishment for past conduct, but in view of the future so as to increase their reward in the world to come for the trials they endured without murmuring. The sufferings of little children come under this head.
On the other hand, a sinner is sometimes well treated and his life prolonged for one of the following reasons: To give him time to repent, as in the case of Manasseh; that he may beget a righteous son, like Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah; to use him as God's tool to punish others more wicked than he—witness the rle of Assyria as Isaiah describes it in chapter ten of his prophecies; for the sake of the righteous who is closely related to him, as Lot was saved for the sake of Abraham; or in order to make the punishment more severe later, as in the case of Pharaoh.
That there is another world after this one in which man is rewarded and punished can be proved from reason, from Scripture and from tradition. It is not likely from what we know of God's wisdom and goodness that the measure of happiness intended for the soul is what it gets in this world. For every good here is mixed with evil, the latter even predominating. No one is really content and at peace in this world even if he has reached the top of the ladder of prosperity and honor. There must be a reason for this, which is that the soul has an intuitional longing for the other world which is destined for it. There are many things from which the soul is bidden to abstain, such as theft, adultery, and so on, which it desires, and abstention from which causes it pain. Surely there must be reward awaiting the soul for this suffering. Often the soul suffers hatred, persecution and even death for pursuing justice as she is bidden to do. Surely she will be rewarded. Even when a person is punished with death for a crime committed in this world, the same death is inflicted for one crime as for ten crimes. Hence there must be another world where all inequalities are adjusted.
It is also evident that the men of the Bible believed in a hereafter. Else why should Isaac have consented to be sacrificed, or why should God have expected it? The same applies to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who preferred to be thrown into the fiery furnace rather than fall down in worship before the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar; and to Daniel who was thrown into the den of lions for disobeying the order of the king and praying to God. They would not have done this if they did not believe in another world, where they would be rewarded for their sufferings in this one.
Tradition and the Rabbinical literature are filled with reference to a future world. We need mention only one or two. In the Ethics of the Fathers (ch. 4) we read that this world is like the vestibule to the other world. Another statement in the Talmudic treatise Berakot (p. 17a) reads that "in the world to come there is no eating and drinking, nor giving in marriage, nor buying and selling, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads and enjoy the splendor of the Shekinah."
With regard to the condition of the soul after death and the nature of reward and punishment in the next world, there is a variety of opinions. Those who hold that the soul is corporeal or that it is an accident of the body believe it is destroyed with the death of the body. We have already refuted their opinion. Others, like the Platonists, the Dualists and the Pantheists, who believe in the pre-existence of the soul either as a separate entity or as a part of God, hold that after the death of the body the soul returns to its original condition. Our belief as stated above (p. 37) is opposed to this. But there are some calling themselves Jews who believe in metempsychosis, that the soul migrates from one person to another and even from man to beast, and that in this way it is punished for its sins and purged. They see a confirmation of their view in the fact that some persons exhibit qualities which are characteristic of lower animals. But this is absurd. The soul and the body form a natural unit, the one being adapted to the other. A human body cannot unite with the soul of an animal, nor an animal body with a human soul. They try to account by their theory for the suffering of little children, who could not have sinned in their own person. But we have already explained that the suffering of children is not in the nature of punishment, but with a view to subsequent reward, and they must admit that the first placing of the soul in the body and giving it commandments is not in the nature of compensation for any past merit, but with a view to later reward. Why not then explain the suffering of children in the same way?
As the body and the soul form a natural unit during life and a man's conduct is the combined effort of the two constituent parts of his being, it stands to reason that future reward and punishment should be imposed upon body and soul in combination. Hence the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, which is alluded to in the Bible and made into a religious dogma by the Rabbis, has support also in the reason. Many objections have been advanced against it, but they can be easily answered. The strongest objection might seem to be that which attempts to show that resurrection is a logical contradiction. The argument is that the elements making up a given body during life find their way after the death of the person into the body of another, to which they are assimilated and of which they form a part. Hence it is impossible to resurrect two bodies out of the material common to both. But this argument is untrue to fact. Every human body has its own matter, which never enters into the composition of any other body. When the person dies and the body decomposes, each element returns to its place in nature, where it is kept until the resurrection.
But there is another event which will happen to Israel before the time of the resurrection. In accordance with the promises of the Prophets we believe that Israel will be delivered from exile by the Messiah. Reason also supports this belief, for God is righteous, and since he has placed us in exile partly as a punishment for wrongdoing, partly for the purpose of trying us, there must be a limit to both.
Messiah the son of David will come, will deliver Jerusalem from the enemy and settle there with his people. When all the believing Israelites have been gathered from all the nations to the land of Palestine, then will come the resurrection. The Temple will be rebuilt, the light of the Shekinah will rest upon it, and the spirit of prophecy will be vouchsafed to all Israel, young and old, master and servant. This blessed period will last until the end of time, i. e., until this world will give place to the next, which is the place of reward and punishment.
We describe the future habitation and status of the soul as Garden of Eden (Paradise) and Gehenna. The former expression is intended to suggest happiness, there being nothing pleasanter in the world than a garden. The term Gehenna is associated in the Bible with Tofteh, which was a place of impurity not far from the Temple. In reality, however, God will create a substance which will combine light and heat in such a way that the righteous will enjoy the light only, while the wicked will be tortured by the heat. All this Saadia infers from Biblical passages.
There will be no eating and drinking in the next world, and hence no need of a heaven and an earth like ours, but there will be place and time, since creatures cannot do without it. There will be no succession of day and night, for these are of use only for our present life and occupations, but will be unnecessary there. There will, however, be a special period for worship.
Reward and punishment in the next world will both be eternal. It stands to reason that God should promise eternal reward and punishment so as to inspire mankind with the highest possible degree of hope and fear, that they may have no excuse for not heeding the commandments so forcibly impressed upon them. Having made the promise, his justice prompts him to fulfil it, and those who suffer have themselves to blame.
We have now completed in outline Saadia's system of Judaism. There are many details which we necessarily had to leave out, especially in the more dogmatic part of his work, that dealing with specific Jewish doctrines, which he constructs on the basis of Rabbinical literature and Biblical allusions interpreted so as to harmonize with the statements of the Rabbis. Many questions specifically theological and eschatological assumed importance in his mind by reason of his surroundings. I mean the Mohammedan schools and sects, and the Karaite discussions which were closely modelled after them. The most important part of his system philosophically is that which deals with creation and the attributes of God. His discussions of the soul and of free will are less thorough, and the details of his doctrines of resurrection, future reward and punishment, the redemption of Israel and the Messiah are almost purely dogmatic. For a scientific ethic there is no room at all in the body of his work. A man's conduct is prescribed for him in the divine commandments, though in a general way the reason sees the right and the wrong of the so-called rational group of laws. Still as an after thought Saadia added a chapter to the "Emunot ve-Deot" in which he attempts to give a psychological basis for human conduct. Noting the various tendencies of individuals and sects in his environment to extremes in human behavior, some to asceticism, some to self-indulgence, be it the lust of love or of power, he lays emphasis on the inadequacy of any one pursuit for the demands of man's complex nature, and recommends a harmonious blending of all things for which men strive.
God alone, he says, is a real unity, everything else is by the very reason of its being a creature essentially not one and simple, but composite and complex. So man has a love and desire for many things, and also aversion for many things. And as in other objects in nature it takes a combination of several elements to constitute a given thing, so in man it is by a proper systematization of his likes and dislikes that he can reach perfection of character and morals. It cannot be that God intended man to pursue one object all his life to the exclusion of all others, for in that case he would have implanted only one desire in man instead of many. You cannot build a house of stones alone neither can you develop a perfect character by one pursuit and one interest.
Pursuit of one thing is likely to result in harm, for example, over-indulgence in eating brings on disease. Wisdom is therefore needed in regulating one's conduct. The principle here is control of one's likes and dislikes. Of the three faculties of the soul, reason, spirit and desire, reason must be the master of the other two. If any matter occurs to a person's imagination, he must try it with his reason to see whether it is likely to benefit or injure him, and pursue or avoid it accordingly. If, on the other hand, he allows the lower parts of his soul to rule his reason, he is not a moral man.
The reader will recognize Plato in the last statement. The division of the soul into the three faculties of reason, spirit and desire is Platonic, as we have already seen, and the attempt to base an ethic on the proper relation between the powers of the soul also goes back to Plato. But Saadia tries to show that the Bible too favors this conception.
When Ecclesiastes tells us (1, 14), "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind," he does not mean that there is nothing worth striving after, for he would then be condemning the objects of God's creation. His meaning is that it is vain to pursue any one thing to the exclusion of every other. He then proceeds to name three prominent objects of pursuit, wisdom, pleasure and worldly gain—all is vain when taken by itself. A proper combination of all is to be recommended as is delicately hinted in the same book (2, 3), "I searched in mine heart how to cheer my flesh with wine, mine heart yet guiding me with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly."
JOSEPH AL-BASIR AND JESHUA BEN JUDAH
I. Joseph Al-Basir (11th century)
Joseph ben Abraham, euphemistically surnamed on account of his blindness, al-Basir (the seer), was a Karaite and lived in Babylonia or Persia in the beginning of the eleventh century. His philosophical work is closely modelled on the writings of the Arabian Mutakallimun, the Mu'tazilites. Unlike Saadia, who tacitly accepts some of their methods and views, al-Basir is an avowed follower of the Kalam and treats only of those questions which are common to Jew and Mohammedan, avoiding, for example, so important an issue as whether it is possible that the law of God may be abrogated—a question which meant so much to Saadia. The division of his investigation into the two parts, Unity and Justice, is a serious matter with him; and he finds it necessary to tell us in several instances why he chose to treat a given topic under the one or the other heading. In spirit and temperament he is a thoroughgoing rationalist. Brief and succinct to the point of obscurity, he betrays neither partiality nor emotion, but fearlessly pushes the argument to its last conclusion and reduces it to its lowest terms.
Saadia (above p. 28) puts revelation as a fourth source of truth parallel to sense, judgment and logical inference. To be sure he, in one instance (p. 35), speaks of the reason as preceding the Bible even as tradition follows it, but this is only a passing observation, and is properly corrected by the view expressed elsewhere (p. 28) that while a Jew is not forbidden to speculate, he must not set the Bible aside and adopt opinions as they occur to him. Al-Basir does not leave the matter in this unsettled condition. He definitely gives priority—logical priority, to reason. Knowledge, he says, must precede revelation. The prophet as the messenger of God cannot be believed on his word, for the opponent may have the same claim. Not only must the prophet authenticate his mission by the performance of a miracle which cannot be explained by natural means, but we must know besides that he who sent him has our good at heart and would not deceive us. A knowledge of the existence, power and wisdom of the creator must therefore precede our belief in the prophet's mission. To take these truths from the words of the prophet and then give him credence because God sent him would be reasoning in a circle. The minimum of knowledge therefore which is indispensable before we can make any appeal to the words of the prophet is rational proof of the existence, power and wisdom of God. Having this minimum the person who is not practiced in speculative investigation may rely for the rest of the creed, for example, the unity of God and his other attributes, upon the words of the Bible. For if we know independently that God is Omnipotent and Omniscient, and the prophet can substantiate his claim to be a divine messenger by the performance of genuine miracles, his reliability is established and we are safe in accepting all that he has to say without proof; but the fundamental thing to do is to establish the prophet's reliability, and for this an independent source of evidence is necessary. This is the reason.
Our problem therefore is to prove the power and wisdom of God, which will imply his existence. We cannot do this directly, for we cannot see God. Hence the only method is to prove the existence of a powerful and wise creator through his creation. We must prove his power in doing things which we cannot do, such as the ability to create our bodies. But for this it is necessary to show that our bodies—and the same will apply to the other bodies of the world, and hence to the world as a whole—were created, i. e., that there was a time when they were not. This leads us to an analysis of the constituents of body. All bodies consist of atoms and their "accidents," or conditions and qualities. The primary accidents, which are presupposed by all the rest, are the following four, combination, separation, motion and rest. Without these no body can exist, for body is the result of a combination and separation of atoms at rest or in motion. But combination and separation are the acts of a combiner and separater, as we can infer from the analogy of our own acts. Our acts have ourselves as their creators, hence the acts visible in the combinations and separations of atoms to form bodies must also have their creator.
The attributes of the creator we infer from the nature of his work. So we call God "Powerful," meaning that he had the power to create the world. As creation denotes power, so the success and harmony of the product argues wisdom; and this power and wisdom thus established are not disproved by an occasional production or event which is not perfect, a monstrosity for example, or disease and suffering. We say in reference to these that God must have a deeper object in view, to inspire mankind with the fear of God, and in order to increase their reward in the next world.
The attribute of Life follows from the other two, for life denotes the possession or capacity of power and knowledge.
Thus al-Basir has the same three essential attributes as Saadia. His proof of the existence of God is also identical with one of the proofs of Saadia. But he shows himself a more loyal follower of the Kalam by frankly adopting the atomic theory, whereas Saadia opposes it (p. 25).
Other predicates of God are perception, will, unity, incorporeality and eternity.
Perception is one of the most important expressions of life, but it must not be confused with knowledge or wisdom. The latter embraces the non-existent as well as the existent, the former the existent only. It is in virtue of the former attribute that we speak of God as "hearing" and "seeing."
"Willing" is another attribute of God, and those are wrong who identify God's will with his knowledge, and define God's willing to mean that his works take place in accordance with his knowledge. God's will must be a special attribute since we see in creation traces of free will. To be the will of God it must not reside in anything different from God, and yet it cannot inhere in God as the subject, for only body is capable of being the subject of accidents. The only solution, therefore, is that God exercises his voluntary activity through a will which he creates, a will not residing in any subject.
This discussion of the nature of God's will seems a case of hair splitting with a vengeance, and al-Basir is not the author of it. As in his other doctrines so in this also he is a faithful follower of the Mu'tazila, and we shall see more of this method in his discussion of the unity of God despite the plurality of his attributes.
But we shall first take up the attributes of incorporeality and eternity, which can be dismissed in a few words.
God is eternal because the only other alternative is that he is created. But if so there is a creator, and if the latter is again created, he must likewise have a creator, and so we are led to infinity, which cannot be, the infinite regress being in all cases an impossibility according to an axiom of the Kalam. We must, therefore, have an eternal creator somewhere, and he is God.
From God's eternity follows his incorporeality, for we have shown before that all body is created, since it presupposes combination and separation, and the latter a combiner and separater.
When we speak of the unity of God we mean first that there is no second God, and then that his own essence has no composition or plurality in it. Two Gods is an absurdity, for the one might desire what the other does not, and he whose will predominates is the real God. It is no objection to say that in their wisdom they would never disagree, because the possibility is there, and this makes the above argument valid. Again, if there were two Gods they would have to be completely alike in their essential attributes, and as space cannot hold them apart, since they are not bodies, what is there to constitute them two?
The other problem, of God's simplicity, is more difficult. Does not the multiplicity of attributes make God's essence multiple and composite? The form which this question took was this. Shall we say that God is omnipotent through Power, omniscient through Knowledge, and so on? If so, this Power, Knowledge, etc., are created or eternal. If the Power, say, is created, then God must have had power in order to create it, hence was powerful not through Power. If the Power is eternal, we have more than one God, and "Power" as an eternal would also be Wise and Living, etc.; Wisdom would also be powerful, living, etc., and so on with the other attributes, a doctrine closely bordering on Christianity and reminding one of Augustine. The principle of monotheism could not allow such a conception as this. If Power is neither created nor eternal, it follows that God is omnipotent not through Power as an external cause or a distinct entity, but through his own essence. The attributes Power, Wisdom, Life, are not anything distinguishable from each other and from God's essence. They are modes or conditions of God's essence, and are known along with it.
The same considerations which prompted us to conceive God as one and simple, make impossible the belief in the eternity of God's word. This was a point much discussed in the Mohammedan schools, and was evidently directed against Christianity, where the Word or Logos was identified with the second person in the Trinity. Eternity, Al-Basir says, is incompatible with the idea and purpose of speech. God speaks with a word which he creates. This adds no new predicate to God, but is implied in his Power. The attribute omnipotent implies that when he wills he can make himself understood by us as we do through speech.
We notice that Al-Basir is more elaborate in his discussion of the attributes than Saadia, and like Al-Mukammas he makes use of the formul of the Kalam, "omnipotent not with Power, omniscient not with Wisdom." Saadia does not follow the Kalam so closely, but is just as emphatic in his endeavor to show that the three essential attributes are only verbally three; conceptually and really they are one.
The doctrine of the attributes brings to a close the section on unity, and the second division of the investigation is entitled Justice and Fairness. The main problems here are the nature of good and evil and the relation of God to them, the question of free will and other subordinate topics, theological and eschatological.
With regard to the first question two extreme positions are possible, which were actually held by Mohammedan schools of Al-Basir's day. One is that nothing is good or bad in itself, our reason not recognizing it as such; that the divine command or prohibition makes the thing good or bad. Hence, the representatives of this opinion say, God, who stands above his commands and prohibitions, is not bound by them. Good and bad hold for the subject, not for the author. The acts of God do not come within the classification, and hence it is possible that God may do what we regard as injustice. Some, in their endeavor to be consistent and to carry the argument to its last conclusion, did not even shrink from the reductio ad absurdum that it is possible God may lie; for, said they, if I promise a boy sweetmeats and fail to keep my promise, it is no worse than if I beat him.
For this school there is no problem of evil, because ethical distinctions do not apply to God's doings. Whatever God does is good. The other school came under the influence of Greek thought and identified the idea of God with the idea of the Good. They maintained that from the nature of God's essence it was not only his duty to do the good, but that it was impossible for him to do anything else. Doing good is a necessity of his nature, and our good and evil are also his good and evil. Ethical values are absolute and not relative.
Neither of these radical views can be maintained. The first is refuted by its own consequences which only very few of its advocates were bold enough to adopt. The possibility of God telling a falsehood, which is implied in the purely human validity of good and evil, is subversive of all religion. God would then cease to be trustworthy, and there would be no reason for giving him obedience. Besides, if revelation alone determines right and wrong, it would follow that if God chose to reverse his orders, our moral judgments would be turned the other way around, good would be evil, and evil good. Finally, if good and bad are determined by the will of God only, those who do not believe in revelation would be without an idea of right and wrong, but this is manifestly not true.
But the other opinion, that God is compelled by the necessity of his nature to do the good, is also erroneous. In the first place it detracts from God's omnipotence to say he cannot do wrong. Besides, if he is compelled by an inner necessity to do the good, he must always have done this, and the world would have existed from eternity. It is just as wrong to say that it is the duty of God to do what is good and useful for man. For this is due to a confusion of the good or generous with the obligatory. Any deed to which no blame attaches may be called good. If no praise attaches to it either, it is indifferent. If it is deserving of praise and its omission does not call forth blame, it is a generous act. A duty is an act the omission of which deserves blame.
Now the truth in the question under discussion is midway between the two extremes. God is able to do good as well as evil, and is under no necessity. The notions of right and wrong are absolute and not merely relative. God never does wrong because evil has no attractive power per se. Wrong is committed always as a means to an end, namely, to gain an advantage or avoid an injury. God is not dependent upon anything; he needs no advantages and fears no injuries. Hence there is nothing to prompt him to do wrong. The good on the other hand attracts us by its inherent goodness, not for an ulterior end. If the good were done only for the sake of deriving some benefit external to the good itself, God, who is self-sufficient, would not do anything either good or evil. God does the good always and not the bad, because in his wisdom he sees the difference between them. It was a deed of generosity in God to have created the world and given life to his creatures, but it was not a duty.
This conception of the nature of good and evil leaves on our hands the problem of evil. Why does a good God permit disease and suffering to exist in the world? In particular, how explain the suffering and death of innocent children and harmless animals?
The answer of Al-Basir is that infliction of pain may under certain circumstances be a good instead of an evil. In human relations a person is permitted to inflict pain on another in self-defence, or to prevent the pain from becoming worse, as, for example, when a finger is amputated to save the hand. The infliction of pain is not only permitted, it becomes a duty in case of retribution, as in a court of justice; and finally it is permitted to inflict temporary pain if it will result in a greater advantage in the future. The last two cases apply also to God's treatment of his creatures. Disease and suffering are either punishment for offences committed, or are imposed with a view to later reward. In the case of children the last explanation alone is applicable. They will be rewarded in the next world. At the same time the parents are admonished to repentance and good conduct.
The most difficult question of the section on justice is that of free will and foreknowledge. Is man master of his actions? If so, how can we reconcile this with God's omniscience, who knows beforehand how the person will act at a given moment? Is man free to decide at the last moment in a manner contrary to God's knowledge? If so, we defend freedom at the expense of God's omniscience. If man is bound to act as God foreknew he would act, divine knowledge is saved, man's freedom lost. Al-Basir has no doubt man is free. Our own consciousness testifies to this. When we cut off our finger bitten by a snake, we know that we ourselves did it for a purpose, and distinguish it from a case of our finger being cut off by order of an official, before whom we have been accused or maligned. One and the same act can have only one author and not two, and we know that we are the authors of our acts. There is a much closer connection between an agent and his act than between a knower and his knowledge, which may be the common property of many, and no one doubts that a man's knowledge is his own.
The dilemma above mentioned with its two horns, of which one denies God's knowledge, the other man's freedom, is puzzling enough, to be sure. But we are not bound to answer it since it is purely hypothetical. We do not know of a real instance in which a man's decision tended to be contrary to God's foreknowledge of its outcome. Just as we should refuse to answer the question whether an actual case of injustice on the part of God would prove his ignorance or dependence, because we know through irrefutable proofs that God is wise and without need; so here we say man has freedom though God knows he will act thus and so, and refuse to say whether in case the unbeliever turned believer it would prove God's ignorance or change in his knowledge.
God's creation was a pure act of grace. But once having done this and communicated to us a knowledge of himself and his will, it is now his duty to guide us in the right path, by sending us his prophets. The commandments and prohibitions must never be contrary to the knowledge of reason. We must see in the commandments means of guidance, in the prohibitions a protection against destructive influences. If they had not this rational basis, we do not see why God should have imposed them upon us.
Having given us reason to know his being, and having announced his truth through the prophets, it is his duty to reward those who knew him and were obedient, eternally in the next world, and to punish eternally the unbeliever. If one has merits and sins, they are balanced against each other. If the sinner repents of his evil deeds, it is the duty of God to accept his repentance and remit his punishment.
2. Jeshua ben Judah
Jeshua ben Judah or, as he is known by his Arabic name, Abu al-Faraj Furkan ibn Asad, was likewise a Karaite, a pupil of Joseph Al-Basir, and flourished in Palestine in the second half of the eleventh century. His point of view is essentially the same as that of his teacher, Al-Basir. He is also a follower of the Mu'tazilite Kalam and as strong a rationalist as his master. He agrees with Al-Basir that we cannot get certain knowledge of the creation of the world and the existence of God from the Bible. This information must come originally from rational speculation. It should then be applied to the miracles of the prophets so as to prove the authenticity of their mission and the truth of their announcements.
He adopts the atomic theory, though he is opposed to the view that atoms are created ever anew by God from moment to moment, and that there is no natural and necessary sequence or continuity in the phenomena of the world or qualities of bodies, all being due to habit, and custom induced in us by God's uninterrupted creations. As in his philosophical discussions he is a follower of the Kalam, so in his legalistic works he is indebted to the Mohammedan schools of religious law.
Like Al-Basir, Jeshua ben Judah regards as the corner stone of his religious philosophy the proof that the world was created, i. e., that it is not eternal. His arguments are in essence the same, though differently formulated. In their simplest form they are somewhat as follows. The world and its bodies consist of atoms and their accidents. Taking a given atom for the sake of argument we know that it is immaterial to it, so far as its own essence is concerned, whether it occupy one place or another. As a fact, however, it does occupy a definite place at a given moment. This must be due to a cause. And as the atom in question in the course of time changes its place, this shows that the cause which kept it in the former place has disappeared and given way to a new cause, and so on. In other words, the successive causes which determine the positions and motions of the atoms are not permanent, hence not eternal but created. The necessary inference is that the atoms or the bodies, which cannot exist without these created causes (else they could not occupy one place rather than another), must also be created.
Another form of the argument for creation is this. The eternal has no cause. It exists by virtue of its own essence, and is not dependent on anything else. If now the atoms were eternal, they would have to persist in the same condition all the time; for any change would imply a cause upon which the atom is dependent, and this is fatal to its eternity. But the atoms do constantly change their condition and place. Hence they are created.
If the things of the world are created, someone must have created them. This is clear. But there may be room for the supposition that this creative agency is a "cause," i. e., an impersonal entity, which by necessity produces other things from itself. Hence we must hasten to say that this conception of the Creator is impossible because incompatible with our results so far. A necessarily producing cause cannot be without creating, hence an eternal cause implies an eternal effect—which contradicts our idea of a created world proved above. We say, therefore, that the Creator is not a "cause" but an "agent," i. e., one acting with will and choice.
God is incorporeal because body consists of atoms, and atoms, we have shown, are created. Besides, if he were corporeal, he could not create bodies any more than we can. He would furthermore be limited to a definite place, and the same arguments cited above to prove that atoms are dependent on a cause would apply to him. Finally we as corporeal beings cannot exert an influence on objects except by coming in contact with them. God causes the seed to grow without being in contact with it. Hence he is not body, and the scriptural passages apparently teaching the contrary must be explained otherwise.
Jeshua ben Judah likewise agrees with Al-Basir in regarding the nature of good and evil as absolute, not relative. Like his master he opposes those who make God's command and prohibition the sole creators of good and evil respectively, as on the other hand he refuses to agree with the view that God is bound by necessity to do the good. Our reason distinguishes between good and evil as our senses between white and black.
Among other arguments in favor of the absolute character of right and wrong, which we have already found in Al-Basir, appears the following. If good and evil mean simply that which God commands and prohibits respectively, and the distinction holds only for us but not for God, it follows that God may do what we think is evil. If this be so, we have no ground for believing in the good faith of the prophet—God might have sent him to deceive us—and the alleged basis of right and wrong is removed.
We conclude therefore that good and evil are absolute and are binding upon God as well. God can do evil as well as good, but being omnipotent he can accomplish his purpose just as easily by doing good as by doing evil, and hence surely prefers to do good. Besides, all evil doing is the result of some need, but God has no needs, being self-sufficient, hence he does not do evil.
It follows from the above that God had a purpose in creating the world. For an act without a purpose is vain and hence bad. This purpose cannot have been egoistic, since God is without need, being above pleasure and pain. The purpose must therefore have been the well-being of his creatures.
SOLOMON IBN GABIROL
With Gabirol the scene of Jewish intellectual activity changes from the east to the west. Prior to the middle of the tenth century the centre of Jewish learning was in Babylonia. The succession of Geonim in the Talmudical schools of Sura and Pumbadita, and particularly the great fame of Saadia, made all the other Jewish communities of the world look to Babylonia as the spiritual centre. They considered it a privilege to contribute to the support of the great eastern academies and appealed to their spiritual heads in cases of doubt in religious matters. Some of this glory was reflected also upon the neighboring countries under Mohammedan domination, Palestine, Egypt, and Kairuan or northern Africa to the west of Egypt. Thus all the men, Rabbanites as well as Karaites, whom we treated so far lived and flourished in the east in one of the four countries mentioned. Christian Europe was intellectually on a low level, and as far as scientific studies were concerned, the Jews under Christian rule were no better than their temporal rulers.
But a new era dawned for Jewish literature with the accession to power of the Umayyad caliph Abd al Rahman III, as head of Mohammedan Spain or Andalusia. He was a liberal man and a patron of learning. Hasdai ibn Shaprut, a cultured and high-minded Jew, was his trusted adviser, and like his royal patron he protected and encouraged Jewish learning, Talmudical as well as scientific. When Moses ben Enoch, a learned emissary from the Babylonian Academy, was ransomed by the Jewish community of Cordova and made the head of a Talmudical school in that city, the beginning of the end of Babylonian Jewish supremacy was at hand. Moses ben Enoch the Talmudist, Menahem ben Saruk, the grammarian and lexicographer, and Dunash ben Labrat, the poet—all three under the distinguished patronage of Hasdai ibn Shaprut—inaugurated the long line of Spanish Jewish worthies, which continued almost five centuries, constituting the golden era of Jewish literature and making of Spain the intellectual centre of all Jewry.
Solomon ibn Gabirol was not merely the first Jewish philosopher in Spain, he was the first Spanish philosopher, that is, he was the first philosophical writer in Andalusia. Ibn Badja, the first Mohammedan philosopher in Spain, was born at least a half century after Gabirol. The birth of Gabirol is generally placed in 1021 and his death in 1058, though some have put it as late as 1070.
The fate of Gabirol in the history of Jewish literature was a peculiar one. Highly celebrated as a synagogal poet in the Sephardic as well as Ashkenazic community, his fame as a great philosopher was early overshadowed by his successors, and his chief work, the "Fountain of Life," was in the course of time quite forgotten. The Arabic original was lost and there was no Hebrew translation. The Tibbonides, Judah, Samuel and Moses, who translated everything worth while in Jewish philology, science and philosophy from Arabic into Hebrew, either did not know of Gabirol's masterpiece or did not think it important enough to translate. To judge from the extant fragments of the correspondence between Samuel ibn Tibbon and Maimonides, it would seem that both were true; that is that Samuel ibn Tibbon had no access to Gabirol's "Fons Vit," and that if he had had such access, Maimonides would have dissuaded him from translating it. Maimonides actually tells his translator that the only books worth studying are those of Aristotle and his true commentators, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Themistius, Averroes. Alfarabi and Avicenna are also important, but other writings, such as those of Empedocles, Pythagoras, Hermes, Porphyry, represent a pre-Aristotelian philosophy which is obsolete, and are a waste of time. The books of Isaac Israeli on the "Elements" and on "Definitions," are no better, seeing that Israeli was only a physician and no philosopher. He is not familiar with the "Microcosmus" of Joseph ibn Zaddik, but infers from a knowledge of the man that his work is based upon the writings of the "Brothers of Purity"; and hence, we may add, not strictly Aristotelian, and not particularly important. Not a word is here said about Gabirol, apparently because Samuel ibn Tibbon had not inquired about him. But from Maimonides's judgment concerning the works of "Empedocles," we may legitimately infer that he would have been no more favorable to Gabirol; for, as we shall see, Gabirol's system is also based upon a point of view similar to that of the so-called "Empedocles." What the Tibbonides left undone was, however, partially accomplished about a half century later by the commentator and critic Shem Tob Falaquera (1225-1290). Apparently in agreement with Abraham ibn Daud that Gabirol's profuseness in his philosophic masterpiece made it possible to reduce it to a tenth part of its size, Falaquera did not find it necessary to translate the whole of the "Mekor Hayim" into Hebrew, giving us instead a translation of selected parts, which in his estimation contained the gist of Gabirol's teaching. The absence of a complete Hebrew translation of Gabirol's philosophical work meant of course that no one who did not know Arabic could have access to Gabirol's "Mekor Hayim," and this practically excluded the majority of learned Jews after the first half of the thirteenth century. But the selections of Falaquera did not seem to find many readers either, as may be inferred from the fact that so far only one single manuscript of this translation is known.
En revanche, as the French would say, the Christian Scholastics of the thirteenth century made Gabirol their own and studied him diligently. His fundamental thesis of a universal matter underlying all existence outside of God was made a bone of contention between the two dominant schools; the Dominicans, led by Thomas Aquinas, opposing this un-Aristotelian principle, the Franciscans with Duns Scotus at their head, adopting it as their own. "Ego autem redeo ad sententiam Avicembronis," is a formula in Duns Scotus's discussion of the principle of matter.
The translation of Gabirol's philosophy into an accessible language, which was not considered desirable by Jews, was actually accomplished by Christians. About a century before Falaquera a complete translation into Latin was made in Toledo of Gabirol's "Fountain of Life," under the title "Fons Vit." This translation was made at the instance of Raymond, Archbishop of Toledo in the middle of the twelfth century, by Dominicus Gundissalinus, archdeacon of Segovia, with the assistance of a converted Jewish physician, Ibn Daud (Avendehut, Avendeath), whose name after conversion became Johannes Hispanus or Hispalensis. Unlike the Hebrew epitome of Falaquera this translation was not neglected, as is clear from the rle Gabirol's philosophy plays in the disputations of the schools, and from the fact that there are still extant four manuscripts of the complete translation, one of an epitome thereof, and there is evidence that a fifth manuscript existed in 1375 in the Papal library. As Ibn Sina was corrupted by the Latin writers into Avicenna, and Ibn Roshd into Averroes, so Ibn Gabirol became in turn, Avencebrol, Avicembron, Avicebron; and the Scholastics who fought about his philosophy had no idea he was a Jew and celebrated as a writer of religious hymns used in the synagogue. He was regarded now as a Mohammedan, now as a Christian.
This peculiar circumstance will help us to get an inkling of the reason for the neglect of Gabirol's philosophy in the Jewish community. It is clear that a work which, like the "Fons Vit," made it possible for its author to be regarded as a Mohammedan or even a Christian, cannot have had the Jewish imprint very deeply stamped upon its face. Nay more, while the knowledge of its having been translated from the Arabic may have been sufficient in itself to stamp the author as a Mohammedan, there must have been additional indications for his Scholastic admirers to make them regard him as a Christian. An examination of the work lends some semblance of truth to these considerations.
Gabirol nowhere betrays his Jewishness in the "Fons Vit." He never quotes a Biblical verse or a Talmudic dictum. He does not make any overt attempt to reconcile his philosophical views with religious faith. The treatise is purely speculative as if religious dogma nowhere existed to block one's way or direct one's search. Abraham Ibn Daud, the author of the philosophical treatise "Emunah Ramah" (The Exalted Faith), and the predecessor of Maimonides, criticises Gabirol very severely, and that not merely because he disagrees with him in the conception of matter and finds Gabirol's reasoning devoid of cogency and logical force—many bad arguments, he says, seem in the mind of Gabirol to be equivalent to one good one—but principally because Gabirol failed to take a Jewish attitude in his philosophizing, and actually, as Ibn Daud tells us, maintains views dangerous to Judaism (below, p. 198).
This will easily account for the fact that Gabirol, celebrated as he was as a poet, was lost sight of generally as a philosopher. The matter is made clearer still if we add that his style in the "Mekor Hayim" is against him. It is devoid of all merit whether of literary beauty or of logical conciseness and brevity. It is diffuse to a degree and frequently very wearisome and tedious. One has to wade through pages upon pages of bare syllogisms, one more flimsy than another.
Finally, the point of view of Gabirol was that of a philosophy that was rapidly becoming obsolete, and Maimonides, the ground having been made ready by Ibn Daud, gave this philosophy its death-blow by substituting for it the philosophy of Aristotle.
We now understand why it is that, with few exceptions here and there, Gabirol's philosophical work was in the course of time forgotten among the Jews, though his name Avicebron as well as some of his chief doctrines were well known to the Scholastic writers. To be sure, even students of Scholastic literature had no direct access to Gabirol's treatise as it was never printed and no one knew whether there were still any manuscripts of it extant or not. The only sources of information concerning Avicebron's philosophy were Aquinas's refutations, and Duns Scotus's defence, and other second-hand references in the writings of the Scholastics. Who Avicebron was no one knew. It was not until 1819 that Amable Jourdain, in tracing the history of the Latin translations of Aristotle, came to the conclusion that more must be known about the philosophy of Avicebron's "Fons Vit" if we intended to understand the Scholastics. In 1845 Solomon Munk discovered in the national library at Paris the epitome of Falaquera mentioned above, and comparing it with the views of Avicebron as found in the discussions of the Scholastics, made the important discovery that the mysterious Avicebron was neither a Mohammedan nor a Christian but a Jew, and none other than the famous poet Solomon ibn Gabirol. Then began a search for copies of a Latin translation, which was rewarded amply. Both Munk and Seyerlen discovered manuscript copies of the "Fons Vit," and now both the Hebrew epitome of Falaquera and the Latin translation of Gundissalinus are accessible in print. So much for the interesting history of Gabirol. Now a word as to his views.
Shem Tob ibn Falaquera, in the brief introduction which he appends to his epitome of the "Mekor Hayim" says, "It seems to me that Solomon ibn Gabirol follows in his book the views of the ancient philosophers as we find them in a book composed by Empedocles concerning the 'Five Substances.' This book is based upon the principle that all spiritual substances have a spiritual matter; that the form comes from above and the matter receives it from below, i. e., that the matter is a substratum and bears the form upon it." He then adds that Aristotle attributes a similar view to his predecessors, but that this view is inconsistent with Aristotle's own thinking. For in his opinion what is material is composite and possessed of potentiality. Hence only those things have matter which are subject to generation and decay, and in general change from one state to another.
Without going into detail as to the nature of this work of Empedocles named by Falaquera as the source of Gabirol's views—expositions of these so-called Empedoclean views and fragments from Empedocles's book have been found in Arabian and Hebrew writers—it is sufficient for us to know that it has nothing to do with the real Empedocles, the ancient Greek philosopher; that it was another of the many spurious writings which circulated in the middle ages under famous names of antiquity; and that like the "Theology of Aristotle," and the "Liber de Causis," mentioned in the Introduction (p. xx), it was Neo-Platonic in character.
Thus Gabirol was a Neo-Platonist. This does not mean that he did not adopt many important Aristotelian conceptions. Neo-Platonism itself could not have arisen without Aristotle. The ideas of matter and form, and potentiality and actuality, and the categories, and so on, had become the fixed elements of philosophical thinking, and no new system could do without them. In this sense Plotinus himself, the founder of Neo-Platonism, is an Aristotelian. When we speak of Gabirol as a Neo-Platonist, we mean that the essence of his system is Neo-Platonic. He is not a dualist, but a monist. God and matter are not opposed as two ultimate principles, as they are in Aristotle. Matter in Gabirol is ultimately identified with God. In this he goes even beyond Plotinus. For whereas in Plotinus matter occupies the lowest scale in the gradation of being as it flows from the One or the Good (cf. Introduction, p. xxxviii), and becomes equivalent to the non-existent, and is the cause of evil, in Gabirol matter is the underlying substance for all being from the highest to the lowest, with the one exception of the Creator himself. It emanates from the essence of the Creator, forming the basis of all subsequent emanations. Hence the spiritual substances of the celestial world, or, to use a more technical and more precise term—since spirit is not located in heaven or anywhere spatially—the intelligible world, have matter underlying their form. In fact, matter itself is intelligible or spiritual, not corporeal. Corporeality and materiality are two different things. There are various gradations of matter, to be sure; for the prime matter as it emerges from the essence of the Creator pervades all existence from highest to lowest, and the further it extends from its origin the less spiritual and the more corporeal it becomes until in the sublunar world we have in the matters of its particular objects, corporeal matter, i. e., matter affected with quantity and magnitude and figure and color. Like Plotinus, Gabirol conceives of the universe as a process of a gradually descending series of existences or worlds, as the Kabbalistic writers term them; these cosmic existences radiating or flowing out of the superabundant light and goodness of the Creator. The two extremes of this graded universe are God at the one end, and the corporeal world at the other. Intermediate between these are the spiritual substances, Intelligence, Soul and Nature. Man as a microcosm, a universe in little, partakes of both the corporeal and intermediate worlds, and hence may serve as a model of the constitution of the macrocosm, or great universe. His body is typical of the corporeal world, which consists of the lowest matter, viz., that which has no other form except that of corporeality, or extension, and the forms of figure, color, and so on, borne on top of the extension.
Body as such is at rest and is not capable of action. To act it needs an agent. Hence it needs an agency to compose its parts and hold them together. We call this agency Nature. Man's body also grows, is nourished and propagates its kind as do plants. This likewise must have its non-corporeal cause. This we call vegetative soul. Man has also sense perception and local motion like the animals. The principle or substance causing this is the animal soul. Man also thinks and reasons and reflects. This is brought about by the rational soul. Finally, man has a still higher function than discursive thought. The latter has to search and to pass from premise to conclusion, whereas the apprehension of the intelligence takes place "without seeking, without effort, and without any other cause except its own essence, because it is full of perfection." In other words, it is immediate intellectual intuition of which Gabirol speaks here. The Intelligence is capable of this because it has in itself, constituting its essence, all the forms of existence, and knowledge means possession of the forms of the things known.
As man is typical of the universe, it follows that there are cosmic existences corresponding to the principles or powers just enumerated in man, and the relation of the latter to the former is that of the particular to the general. Hence there is a cosmic Intelligence, a cosmic soul embracing the rational, the animal and the vegetative parts, and a cosmic nature. Of these the more perfect is the cause of the less perfect; hence the order in which we named them represents the order of causation or of emanation from the prime source.
The lowest of these emanations is the matter which sustains extension or magnitude, and with it the process ceases. This matter is no longer the source of an additional form of existence. The various qualities and attributes which inhere in this corporeal matter are caused by the spiritual substances above. For like the prototype of all generosity and goodness the First Essence or God, every one of the spiritual substances proceeding from him has the same tendency of imparting its form or forms to the substance next below it. But the forms thus bestowed are no longer the same as they are in the essence of the bestowing substance, as it depends upon the recipient what sort of form it will receive. An inferior receiving substance will receive a superior form in an inferior way. That is, the form which in the substance above the one in question is contained in a spiritual and unitary manner, will be transformed in the substance below it into something less spiritual, less unified, and more nearly corporeal, i. e., visible and tangible. Hence the visible and tangible, and in general the sensible qualities of particular things in the sublunar world, are in reality descended from a line of spiritual ancestors in the forms of the simple substances, Intelligence, Soul and Nature. But it is their distance from the prime source, which increases with every transmission of influence, together with the cruder nature of the receiving substance, that makes the resulting forms corporeal and sensible. The matter may be made clear if we use the analogy of light, which is invisible as long as it is in air because it penetrates it, but becomes visible when it comes in contact with a gross body which it cannot penetrate. It then remains on the surface condensed, and becomes visible to the senses.
We thus see that the higher substance acts upon the lower and contains all that is found in the latter, though in a more perfect and simple manner. The lower substances flow from the higher and yet the latter are not diminished in their essence and power.
That ordinary material objects are composed of matter and form is admitted and we need not now prove it, as we have already discussed the subject in the Introduction, where we gave an outline of the Aristotelian philosophy. The principle peculiar to Gabirol is that not merely the material objects of the sublunar world, but that the intelligible or spiritual substances also are composed of matter and form. Whenever two things have something in common and something in which they differ, that which they have in common is the matter, that in which they differ is the form. Two things absolutely simple must be prime to each other, i. e., they must have nothing in common, for if they have anything in common they have everything in common, and they are no longer two things but one. Hence a spiritual substance must be composite, for it must have something by which it differs from a corporeal substance, and something, viz., substantiality, which it has in common with it. In the same way the intelligible substances, Intelligence and Soul, have their substantiality in common, and they differ in form. Hence they are composed of matter and form, and the matter must be the same in all the intelligible substances; for their differences are due to their forms, hence if their matters also differed, they would have to differ in form, but matter as such has no form. Hence matter in itself is everywhere the same.
As the Intelligence is the highest existence next to God, and is composed of matter and form, these are respectively the universal matter and universal form, embracing all subsequent matters and forms. Hence the Intelligence in knowing itself knows everything, as everything is contained in it. And as it is prior to everything and the cause of everything it has an immediate knowledge of all things without effort or searching.
But what is the origin of universal matter and universal form which, in constituting Intelligence, are the fundamental principles of all existence? The answer is they come from the First Essence, God. Unity comes before duality or plurality, and there is no true unity except in God. Whatever issues from him is ipso facto, as a product which is not God, affected with duality. Matter and Form is this duality. Their union is necessary and real, and it is only in thought that we can keep them apart. In reality they form a unit, their union varying in perfection according as they are nearer or further away from their origin. Hence the union is closest in Intelligence, the first divine emanation, and least close in corporeal objects of the sublunar world, where plurality is the order of the day.
This process by which universal matter and form issue from God may be called creation. But we must conceive of it on the analogy of water flowing from a fountain in continued and uninterrupted succession. The only difference is that the emanation from God takes place without motion and without time.
The union of universal form and universal matter must be thought of as a stamping of the form upon the matter. Matter has in itself no actual or definable existence. It serves merely as a tabula rasa, as a potential background, as an empty receptacle, as a reflecting mirror for form to be written, filled out, impressed or reflected therein or upon. Hence we may view God as the spectator, universal matter as the mirror, and universal form as the reflection of the spectator in the glass. God himself does not enter the glass, only his reflection is outlined therein. And as matter and form are really the whole world, it would follow that the universe is a reflection of God, though God remains in himself and does not enter the world with his essence.
We may also picture to ourselves this impression of form upon matter on the analogy of speech. The speaker's words impress ideas upon the soul of the listener. So God speaks and his Word or Will impresses form upon matter. The world is created by the Word or the Will of God.
In all these similes matter appears as something external to God, upon which he impresses form. But this is not strictly true, since matter has no real existence without form, and has never so existed. The existence of matter and form is simultaneous, and both come from God, matter from his essence, form from his attribute, or his Wisdom, or his Word, or his Will. And yet in God, who is a perfect unity, essence and attribute are one. It is the Will of God, not God himself, that must be regarded as the spectator, whose outline is reflected in the mirror of matter in the above simile. It is the Will of God that writes form upon the chart of matter, and thereby produces a world. It is in virtue of the Will that God is said to be in everything.
But what is this will of God as distinguished from God himself, since in God there can be no duality of any kind? Gabirol's answer is not clear or satisfactory. The will, he says, is identical with God if we consider it apart from its activity; considered as active it is different from the divine essence. Exactly to describe it is impossible, but the following is an approximation. It is a divine power producing matter and form, binding them together, pervading them throughout their extent above and below, as the soul pervades the body, and moving and ordering everything.
God himself, or the First Essence, can be known only through the Will as pervading everything, i. e., through his effects in the world. And in this way too only his existence can be known but not his essence as he is in himself, because God is above everything and infinite. The soul may know Intelligence because though the latter is above the soul there is some similarity between them. But the First Essence has no similarity to Intelligence, therefore no intelligence can know it.
There is a kind of mystic knowledge by which man may come in touch with the spiritual substances and rise even to universal matter, which is above Intelligence. "If you wish to form a picture of these substances," the master says to the disciple in the "Fons Vit," "you must raise your intellect to the last intelligible, you must purify it from all sordid sensibility, free it from the captivity of nature and approach with the force of your intelligence to the last limit of intelligible substance that it is possible for you to comprehend, until you are entirely divorced from sensible substance and lose all knowledge thereof. Then you will embrace, so to speak, the whole corporeal world in your being, and will place it in one corner of your soul. When you have done this you will understand the insignificance of the sensible in comparison with the greatness of the intelligible. Then the spiritual substances will be before your eyes, comprehending you and superior to you, and you will see your own being as though you were those substances. Sometimes it will seem to you that you are a part of them by reason of your connection with corporeal substance; and sometimes you will think you are all of them, and that there is no difference between you and them, on account of the union of your being with their being, and the attachment of your form to their forms." The pupil assures the teacher that he has followed this advice and seen the whole corporeal world floating in the spiritual substances as a small boat in the sea, or a bird in the air. "When you have raised yourself to the first universal matter," replies the teacher, "and illumined its shadow, you will see there the wonder of wonders. Pursue this therefore diligently and with love, because this is the purpose of the existence of the human soul, and in this is great delight and extreme happiness."
But Gabirol does not promise a knowledge of the Most High even through this royal road of ecstasy, unless we suppose that in the promise of seeing in universal matter the wonder of all wonders there may be a covert allusion to a glimpse of the deepest secret of all, the essence of God.
All knowledge is according to Gabirol embraced in the following three topics, (1) Matter and Form, (2) the Active Word or Will, (3) the First Essence or God. By far the larger part of the "Fons Vit" is devoted to the first subject. Only brief hints are given of the second and third, and Gabirol refers us to a special work of his on the Will, which he says he wrote. There is no trace of any such treatise. At any rate it is clear from the little that is contained on the Divine Will in the "Fons Vit" that the Will forms an important element in Gabirol's philosophy. This is the more remarkable because it is not an essential element in Neo-Platonism, upon which Gabirol's system is based. Nay, the doctrine of a divine will scarcely has any place in the form of emanation taught by Plotinus. The cosmic process is conceived there as necessary and impersonal. And but for the introduction of the Will in the "Fons Vit" we should be forced to understand Gabirol in the same way. The difficulty in Neo-Platonism is that God is at the same time transcendent and, through his powers or emanations, immanent in the world. God is above all being and at the same time is the cause of and pervades all existence. Gabirol must have felt not merely this purely philosophical difficulty, but as a Jew, Pantheism as well as impersonalism must have been objectionable to him. Hence he mitigates both by introducing the divine will as mediating between God and the world. This brings God in closer and more personal touch with his creation. The cosmic process is not a necessary and impersonal flow or radiation but a voluntary activity having a purpose. The solution is unsatisfactory, as all such solutions are bound to be, because it introduces as many difficulties as it solves. The nature of this divine Will is ambiguous. If it is God's will, and God is the One in whom there can be no distinctions, we have only a new word, and nothing is solved. If on human analogy we are inclined to take the will seriously, we are endangering God's unity. This dilemma Gabirol does not succeed in removing. His system still has a strong flavor of Pantheism, and moreover his identification of the Will of God with the Wisdom and the Word of God, and his hypostatization of the latter as in a sense a being distinct from God, reminds us strongly of Philo's Logos, which became the Logos of Christianity, the second person in the Trinity. This is the reason why William of Auvergne, bishop of Paris in the thirteenth century, regarded Avicebron as a Christian. And these same reasons were no doubt adequate to estrange Jewish readers, as Abraham ibn Daud expressly tells us about himself, though his terms are general (see above, p. 62).
Gabirol is also the author of an ethical work which he composed in 1045. Though of little importance philosophically, or perhaps because of this, the "Tikkun Middot ha-Nefesh" (Improvement of the Qualities of the Soul) fared much better than its more important companion, the "Mekor Hayim." Not only did it have the privilege of a Hebrew translation at the hands of the father of translators, Judah ibn Tibbon, but the original Arabic itself is still extant and was recently published with an English translation by Stephen S. Wise (1901). The Hebrew translation also had the good fortune of being reprinted several times. This is due to the fact that the "Tikkun Middot ha-Nefesh" is a popular work, dealing with morals, and does not go into metaphysical questions. It is full of Biblical citations, which stamps it as Jewish; and there are also in it quotations from Arabic writers serving to illustrate the argument and lending variety and interest to the style.
The larger question of the aim of human life is touched on in the "Fons Vit." We are told there that the ultimate aim of man's existence is that the soul should unite with the upper world to which it belongs. The particular human soul is according to Gabirol a part, though not in a physical sense, of the cosmic soul, which is one of the universal spiritual substances (see above, p. 66). Hence its own real existence is spiritual and eternal, and independent of the body. Its entrance into the body obscures its spiritual vision, though it does not lose all touch with the higher world from which it came. The senses and the data of sense perception are not an end in themselves; they are only a means for the soul through them to recall the higher knowledge which was its own in its spiritual existence, and thereby win its return to the intelligible world. Man's duty therefore in this world is to strive to attain this higher life for his soul. This is brought about by means of knowledge and practice. This knowledge has to do with knowing all things as they really are, and particularly the intelligible substances and the Prime Essence. Practice signifies to keep away as far as possible from things of sense, which are foreign to the soul and might injure it. What more particularly the things are which are beneficial to the soul, and what are injurious, we learn from Gabirol's ethical treatise. Man's soul has a higher and a lower nature. The higher power is the reason or rational soul, the lower is the animal or vegetative soul; and man's business is to see that the reason rules over the lower nature.
Gabirol does not give us any test by which we can tell whether a given act or feeling belongs to the lower or higher nature except to say that the appetites are diseases of the body which must be cured; that they do not belong to the rational soul, and to satisfy them is not the attainment of a good. Gabirol's method of treating virtue and vice, or rather the virtues and the vices, is to relate them to the five senses and the four humors in man, which in turn correspond to the four elements, fire, air, water, earth, and the four primitive qualities, hot, cold, moist, dry. This division of the elements, the humors, the qualities and the senses was a commonplace of the physiological and medical science of the time. We have met it in Isaac Israeli (see above, p. 3), and it goes back to Aristotle and Galen and Hippocrates. The originality, though a queer one to be sure, of Gabirol is to bring the ethical qualities of man into relation with all these. The approximations are forced in every instance and often ludicrous. Instead of attempting to give a psychological analysis of the qualities in question, he lays stress on their physical basis in one of the five senses, as we shall see presently.
The great world, we are told, was created out of the four elements, and similarly man, the microcosm, also consists of four natures corresponding to the elements. Thus the four humors, upon the harmonious combination of which the health of man's body depends, viz., blood, phlegm, black gall, and red gall, correspond respectively to air, water, earth, fire. Man is endowed besides with five senses. If he is wise he will use his senses properly and in the right measure, like a skilful physician who calculates carefully what proportion of each drug should be prescribed.
The sense of sight is the noblest of the senses, and is related to the body as the sun to the world. The philosophers have a wonderful saying concerning the eye that there are spiritual tints in the soul which are visible in the movements of the eyelids—pride and haughtiness, humility and meekness. Accordingly the ethical qualities due to the sense of sight are pride, meekness, modesty and impudence, besides the subordinate qualities derived from these.
Pride is common in a person of a warm disposition in whom the red gall predominates. Many wise men exhibit this quality out of place, fools adopt it until they are mastered by it, and it is prevalent in youth. It may be useful when it keeps a man away from vice and unworthy things, inspiring him to rise to nobility of character and the service of God. But generally it is useless and leads to many evils, especially if it causes one to be self-opinionated, refusing to seek the advice of anyone. When a man sees this quality gaining mastery over him, he should consider the origin and end of existing things. When he sees that all things are destined to pass away, and himself likewise, his pride will change to humility.
Meekness is closer to virtue than the quality mentioned before, because he who possesses it withholds his desire from seeking gratification. It is a quality manifested by the prophets and leads to honor. "The fruits of lowliness," a philosopher has said, "are love and tranquillity." Contentment is of a kind with meekness. The greatest riches are contentment and patience. He who esteems his rank but lightly enhances man's estimation of his dignity. A wise man has said, "Be humble without cringing, and manly without being arrogant. Arrogance is a wilderness and haughtiness a taking refuge therein, and altogether a going astray."
Modesty is connected with humility but is superior to it, for it is a sister of reason, and reason, as everybody knows, is the most important quality, which separates man from beast and brings him near to the angels. You never see a modest person without sense, or a person of good sense who is not modest. A man must be modest not only before others but also to himself. Modesty and faithfulness, it is said, are closely related, and the one cannot be had truly without the other.
The impudent man is disliked by God and by man, even if he be wise and learned. If one has this quality it is the duty of his friend and associate to break him of it by reproving him. It is of value only when used in defence of the Torah and in behalf of God and the truth.
Space will not permit us to treat in detail of the other senses and the virtues and vices depending upon them, but we shall indicate briefly Gabirol's method of relating the ethical qualities to the physical senses.
Thus the sense of hearing, which is next in importance to sight has as its qualities hate, love, mercy and cruelty. It takes some fine insight, he says, to see the connection of these qualities with the sense of hearing, but the intelligent and discerning reader will find this hint sufficient. I hope he will not blame me, Gabirol continues, if I do not bring together all the reasons and the scriptural passages to prove this, for human flesh is weak, especially in my case on account of my vexatious experiences and disappointments. We find in the Bible love associated with hearing: "Hear, O Israel ... and thou shalt love the Lord thy God" (Deut. 6, 4). Hate follows hearing in the phrase: "When Esau heard the words of his father ... and Esau hated Jacob" (Gen. 27, 34-41). Mercy is related to hearing in Exod. (22, 26), "And I will hear for I am merciful." Finally cruelty is to refuse to listen, as we find in the case of Pharaoh (Ex. 9, 12), "And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them."
In a similar manner Gabirol proves that the sense of smell has four qualities, anger, favor, envy, wide-awakeness; the sense of taste, the four qualities, joy, sorrow, regret, calmness; while liberality, niggardliness, courage and cowardice are related to the sense of touch.
The relation of the ethical qualities to the senses, humors, elements and primitive physical qualities is exhibited in the following table, as it appears in the Arabic text of the "Aslah al-Ahlak," the original title of Gabirol's ethical work.
Among Gabirol's religious poems there is one which interests us particularly because it bears traces of the philosophy of the "Fons Vit." It is the most important of his hymns and is found in the prayer-book of the Sephardic ritual for the Day of Atonement. "The Royal Crown," as the poem is entitled, is an appeal to God for mercy and forgiveness, and is based upon the contrast between the greatness of God and the insignificance of man. The first part is therefore devoted to a poetical description of God's attributes and the wonders of the cosmic system, as conceived in the astronomical science of the day. A few quotations will give us an idea of the style and character of the hymn and its relation to the "Fons Vit."
"Thine are the mysteries, which neither fancy nor imagination can comprehend; and the life, over which dissolution hath no power. Thine is the Throne exalted above all height; and the habitation concealed in the eminence of its recess. Thine is the existence, from the shadow of whose light sprung every existing thing; of which we said, under its protecting shadow shall we live....